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New Zealand Itinerary Help

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Will be going to NZ late August (31st) into Sept 2016.....tentative itinerary as follows:

Day Auckland. Rental car for trip.
Day 2.............Auckland
day 3 & 4.......Rotorua
day 5.............Wellington
day 6 & 7.......Ferry to south island. 2 nights Kaikoura
Day 8 & 9.......2 nights Christchurch
Day 10...........Drive to Greymouth. Overnight.
Day 11 & 12....Drive to Wanaka. 2 nights
Day 13 & 14....2 nights Queenstown
Day 15 & 16....Dunedin. 2 nights
Day 17............Return to Christchurch. Overnight.
Day 18............Fly to USA

Thoughts on the layout of this itinerary. Any places need more or less time. Anything major that I am missing.

Appreciate feedback. Thanks !!

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    Keep in mind that days will be short, daylight limited. This will affect your trip considerably. Sunrise is around 8 am and sunset around 5:30 pm in late August.

    Also be aware that winter driving in NZ can be unpredictable - roads are often frosty (think black ice) until 10 am in the morning.

    For those reasons alone, it's best to be flexible and not plan too tight a driving itinerary.

    For example:

    Greymouth to Wanaka is over a seven hour drive! I would never suggest anyone do this, even in the height of summer when it's light until 9 pm. These roads are narrow, winding and subject to landslips. It can be very slow going, even under the best of conditions.

    Yes, it's a pretty drive, with lots of reasons to stop, but you need time for it - meaning at least a night stopover en route.

    As you're not spending any time at the glaciers though, why take this route at all? Why not drive from Christchurch to Wanaka via the inland route and shorten your time behind the wheel considerably? You could then add a couple of nights to Mount Cook and bypass Greymouth altogether (a mining town with not much on offer for tourists unless you like beer and whitebait).

    Two nights in Queenstown only gives you one full day, and there's a lot to see and do in the area.

    Queenstown to Dunedin is a four hour drive, so that only gives you 1-1/2 days in Dunedin, and that's only if you get an early start. What specifically do you want to do there?

    Dunedin to Christchurch is another long haul (about five hours) and via the least scenic road in NZ - the east coast.

    You're spending a lot of time behind the wheel and not much time in the places you're driving to.

    I suggest you extend your time in Queenstown (or vicinity) and leave Dunedin for another time. Or, if Dunedin is a must do for you, why not fly from Dunedin back to Christchurch and avoid that not-so-pretty-time-eating drive?

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    Looking at your North Island itinerary, you won't need a car in Auckland. Pick it up before you leave town.

    It will take you most of day 5 to drive from Rotorua to Wellington, leaving no time to see anything there.

    Lee Ann

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    I had the same thoughts as Lee Ann, generally no car needed for Auckland city attractions or if you spend time exploring an island in Hauraki Gulf (this is the body of water in front of downtown Auckland that includes Rangitoto Island, Waiheke Island, Tiritiri Matangi Island, and other islands). For getting from Auckland Airport into the city centre, you can catch the Sky Bus or shuttles. When we were last there in November, my husband and I caught Discount Taxis, the set fare from the city to the airport was NZ$40 (cash).

    The drive from Rotorua to Wellington is long. 5 hours, 44 minutes. After checking into your accommodation, you haven't much time for Wellington sightseeing. Te Papa closes at 6 p.m. Sunset will be around 6 p.m. in late August-early Sept. No time to walk around the Botanic Garden or enjoy the daytime views from the Cable Car. So why bother going there? Not worth it, just to have dinner and catch the ferry the next morning. Besides, the ferry crossing could be rough in winter.

    I agree with Melnq8, Queenstown merits more time (at least three days/nights) because there are so many interesting attractions in and around it (wineries, Glenorchy, Arrowtown), plus there's the beautiful Lake Wakatipu setting. You can also do many tours out of Q'town (Milford Sound, Skippers Canyon, TSS Earnslaw Cruise and tour of Walter Peak Farm. etc.). The town centre will be busy in winter ski season, but you don't have to spend much time in the busy centre.

    I also agree that Greymouth doesn't hold much appeal for tourists. Better to stay in scenic Punakaiki or Hokitika instead. Though, truth be told, I kind of like Greymouth, perhaps because it is more ordinary, just a regular small town.

    Melnq8 also makes a good point in saying that there's no point in driving to the glaciers, if you don't have time to look around. The drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka is not an easy one, with narrow twists and turns at times. If the weather is poor, it could be stressful.

    What are your interests? Museums? Wineries? Photography? Mountains? Coasts? History? Wildlife? Hiking? I live in Dunedin, so if you tell me what you'd like to see here, I can advise you. A day and a half might be enough. No telling what the weather will be like late August-early September. Or even next week!

    After arriving in Auckland, why not connect to a South Island flight to Christchurch or Queenstown? The flight from SFO arrives early, at 5:45 a.m. Flights from LAX arrive at 5:20 a.m. or 6:20 a.m. The flight from Auckland to Christchurch takes only 1 hour 25 minutes. On August 31st, there's a flight from Auckland to CC that departs at 7:30 a.m, arriving CC at 8:55 a.m., the next flight leaves AKL at 9 a.m. arriving CC at 10:25 a.m. Or there's a 10:15 a.m. flight from AKL to Queenstown that arrives at 12:05 p.m. You wouldn't need a car for your first night in CC or Queenstown. Depending on your plans for Queenstown, you might be able to do without a car for two or three days, giving yourself plenty of time to get over jet-lag and adjust to the new time zone.

    Then consider driving from CC to Queenstown or vice versa, stopping for a night or two at points between, before flying to Rotorua. Then drive, fly or take an Intercity bus to Auckland.

    The schedule you originally proposed has you returning to Christchurch for a third night before connecting to AKL and your flight to the USA. Would this be Friday, Sept. 16? There is an All Blacks vs. South Africa right match in CC on Sat. Sept 17, so some out of town fans might be arriving early to enjoy the weekend in CC, starting with Friday night. Could get busy.

    Here’s a possible itinerary (among many). Keep in mind drive times will be longer if you face delays due to poor weather or adverse road conditions, or if you stop for detours or short walks along the way.

    Day One Arrive Auckland, connect to CC, spend day exploring CC.
    Day Two Drive to Kaikoura
    Day Three Kaikoura
    Day Four Drive to Nelson 3.5 hours, but a little longer if you do Queen Charlotte Drive (means driving from Kaikoura to Picton first).
    Day Five Drive from Nelson to Punakaiki, 3 hours, 40 minutes. But you might want to detour to Cape Foulwind Walkway along the way.
    Day Six Drive to Franz Josef or Fox, perhaps stopping at Hokitika Gorge. Punakaiki to Franz Josef drive without stops will be 3 hours.
    Day Seven Franz Josef or Fox
    Day Eight Wanaka
    Day Nine Wanaka
    Day Ten Q’town
    Day Eleven Q’town
    Day Twelve Q’town
    Day 13 Fly to Rotorua
    Day 14 Rotorua
    Day 15 Rotorua or travel by car, plane or bus to Auckland
    Day 16 Auckland
    Day 17 Auckland

    This above schedule gives you three days in Auckland or Rotorua. You could spend just two days in each place and use the freed-up day in your schedule to spend an extra night in CC, Nelson area, or Blenheim (if you enjoy wine)

    Here’s another possibility (again, among many):

    Day One Arrive Auckland, connect to Q’town
    Day Two Q’town
    Day Three Drive to Te Anau
    Day Four Coach tour to Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound from Te Anau. Overnight TA.
    Day Five Drive to Dunedin, 3 hours 45 minutes.
    Day Six Dunedin
    Day Seven Drive to Wanaka, 3 hours 35 minutes
    Day Eight Wanaka
    Day Nine Drive to Franz Josef or Mt. Cook Village
    Day Ten Franz Josef or Mt. Cook Village (or Tekapo)
    Day Eleven CC
    Day Twelve CC
    Day 13 Fly to Rotorua
    Day 14 Rotorua
    Day 15 Rotorua or travel by car, plane or bus to Auckland
    Day 16 Auckland
    Day 17 Auckland

  • Report Abuse

    Diamantina has offered 2 more sensible itineraries, however I would make a subtle change in itinerary #1. Instead of 2 nights Kaikoura and 1 night Nelson, I'd do 1 night Kaikoura, 2 nights Nelson (allowing you to explore Abel Tasman NP or visit wineries in the area).

    I would caution you against doing the Franz Josef option in her itinerary #2. It would mean 2 very long days of driving. The Mt Cook option shortens the drive. There are some fantastic walks from Mt Cook village and you'd actually have time to do them! If you head to Franz Josef, the drives are so long that you wouldn't have time to do much of anything there. If FJG is important to you, then poach a day from Auckland and spend 2 nights there.

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    <<Melnq8....Thank you for your input. How would you structure the Days 8 thru 18 to get the maximum out of a visit to the south island ?? Appreciate your suggestions>>

    Well, without knowing what your interests are, I'll just have to make some random suggestions.

    Diamantina has already made some good suggestions, here's another to consider, notice I've switched the SI and NI portions putting Auckland at the end instead of the beginning.

    Arrive Auckland, take connecting flight to Christchurch, (leave Auckland and Rotorua portion for end of trip).

    Two nights Christchurch - to recover from jetlag and either explore the city or make the 90 minute drive to the French settlement Akaroa for the day for a harbor cruise, etc. Or even drive as far as Arthur's Pass for a day to explore. (Or take the Tranz Alpine, but the views are prettier from a car as the train stays inside tunnels for the most part).

    Drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook, exploring Lake Tekapo en route - two nights

    Drive from Mt Cook to Wanaka - 2-3 nights. Lots to do in the area including visiting Mt Aspiring Nat'l Park (great tramping), hiking to the top of Mt Iron, lake activities, etc. There's a winery and a beer maker in the area if that appeals. From Wanaka you can also drive to Cromwell for a nice meal at a winery - our favorite is Mt Difficulty in Bannockburn.

    Drive from Wanaka to Te Anau - 2-3 nights, two full days to visit Milford and/or Doubtful, and/or time to take in some of the fabulous walking tracks in the area.

    Drive Te Anau to Queenstown - three nights

    Fly from Queenstown to Auckland for departing flight

    You'll notice I've run out of nights already!

  • Report Abuse

    Correction - fly from QT to Auckland for remaining time on the NI.

    You might notice that my proposed itinerary has no one night stays. I personally find one night stays tiring and unproductive as they leave little or no time to explore between finding one's way around, checking into and out of accommodation (check out time in NZ is usually 10 am), unloading and reloading the car, unpacking and repacking luggage.

    I prefer to hunker down in an area for three nights or longer, although I do make the occasional exception as needed.

    Your travel style may vary.

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    Diamantina.....THANK YOU !! Great thoughts. I had gotten too ambitious in my planning. Cant see it all. Like the 1st suggested itinerary. Looks far more manageable. I am going to use that as a template for my planning. Thanks again.

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    I hope it works out for you. It's just one possible itinerary among many, and I based it on your original wish to drive the West Coast, see Auckland, Rotorua, CC, Kaikoura, Wanaka, and Queenstown (though I freed your schedule of out-of-way-Dunedin).

    As I suggested, you could cut a day from Auckland and add a day to the Nelson area, CC or Blenheim, depending on your interests. Personally, I'd add a day to the Nelson area, as a two night stay is more restful and would allow you to relax and see more (and, as Melnq8 notes, you won't have to pack and unpack as often). The Nelson area tends to get some of NZ's sunniest weather. There are plenty of outdoor attractions here, wineries, dining, and much more.

    It's hard to advise people if you don't know their interests, tastes, or budget. I don't know if you're active folks who'd like to hike, kayak, walk on a glacier, swim with dolphins, bungy jump; or like to visit wineries or breweries; or interested in viewing museums, art galleries, or whales; or if you're experienced with driving on narrow, curvy roads in winter or with driving on the left. I guess you chose Rotorua because you're interested in Maori culture and/or geothermal activity. If interested in Maori culture, don't miss the Auckland War Memorial Museum. They have outstanding Maori and Oceanic collections.

    As I said in my first posting, the drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka is not easy, with narrow twists and turns at times, and If the weather is poor, the drive can be more stressful. You could encounter delays or temporary road closures. Please heed warnings to not drive before 10 a.m. if the roads are frosty, and avoid driving after dark. Mountainous and shady roads can be particularly dangerous, and you might not even be aware of the problem until you start swerving off the road. It's happened to us here in Dunedin on sea level roads on sunny days!

    You might want to check the weather forecasts while you're here:
    Or updated road conditions (AA Roadwatch):

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    Diamantina.....I like wineries, breweries, mountain scenery, moderate hiking, art galleries, good food, oceans & lakes. I have experience driving on left side of road and have done twisty turn type roads. I will definitely heed your warnings as to frost.

    I am reworking my itinerary along the guidelines you suggested and will share with you for your further input. Nothing beats local knowledge. Thanks for your wonderful suggestions.

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    Thanks, nygvic0326, this will help me and others in making more detailed suggestions. I'm relieved you have experience driving South Island-type roads in winter.

    You'll definitely be seeing lakes, mountain, and coastal scenery.

    Here's a starter list of some attractions that might interest you at the beginning of the itinerary, with some helpful links, keeping in mind your limited time.

    Some attractions in Christchurch city center (you can walk between these attractions as they're in the same area):
    Botanical Garden and adjacent Canterbury Museum (native kowhai should be in bloom, and possibly non-native but pretty cherry blossoms)
    Christchurch Art Gallery
    Cardboard Transitional Cathedral (designed by Pritzger Prize winning architect Shigeru Ban as a temporary replacement for the earthquake-damaged historic Christchurch Cathedral)
    Street art (installations, murals, etc.)
    Restart Mall (container mall housing shops and food/beverage outlets) Link to CC Tourism website:

    This downtown area is also served by a historic tram (see link with good map):
    Christchurch is rebuilding like crazy, I'm sure you'll find it interesting.

    One of my husband’s favorite beers is made by Christchurch-based Harrington’s, but I haven’t been there. There’s a website,

    When driving from CC to Kaikoura, you'll pass through the relatively small Waipara wine region. There are some excellent and attractive wineries here, with it pinot noirs and rieslings being stand-outs. But the Marlborough wine region, centered around Blenheim, is NZ’s largest and best known, mainly owing to to its distinctive sauvignon blancs, though its other varietals such as pinot noir are equally good. There are also wineries in the Nelson area. And near Queenstown: its Central Otago wine region, which includes Gibbston Valley, Cromwell and Bannockburn, is highly scenic and produces world-class pinot noirs.

    Kaikoura attractions:
    Whale watching, swimming with dolphins or fur seals, pelagic bird tours.
    Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway and Point Kean fur seal colony
    Ohau Point and Ohau Stream Walkway (27 km north of Kaikoura, you’ll pass it on your way north) See:
    Kaikoura is a Maori word (kai means food, koura means crayfish) and Kaikoura is still the best place for trying this local specialty.

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